For the past few weeks, Callicoon Fine Arts, a gallery occupying an unassuming storefront on Forsyth Street, has been hosting a show by the artist Jason Simon that audaciously takes on the mighty Museum of Modern Art. Simon is showing his photographs of neoclassical bank buildings that have been repurposed by high-end retail companies, and a series of books he created commemorating the demise of the much-loved Film Stills Archive department that MOMA ran for decades. The exhibit encapsulates what New York’s Lower East Side was and continues to be: a vital alternative to Big Art and Big Business.
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A lost collection is a lost universe–and not just of tangible things. A certain logic has vanished, along with its particular laws and associations. It’s been a dozen years since PASTA, the union representing curators, graphic artists, librarians, secretaries, and other staff workers, struck the Museum of Modern Art on the eve of the museum’s expansion, but the passage of time has failed to heal some wounds of that conflict.
The immense resource that was MoMA’s Film Still Archive—a four-million item trove of catalogued images, used by thousands of scholars and photo researchers annually—was put in cold storage in rural Pennsylvania, perhaps permanently and perhaps punitively. Mary Corliss, the associate curator who managed the archive for 34 years, was laid off, along with her assistant,Terry Geesken. Both had been union activists.